National Assembly Claims CNRP Acting Unconstitutionally

The National Assembly said in a statement on Friday that the opposition CNRP is in contempt of both the Constitution and the King by claiming that the new government is illegitimate.

The CNRP had accused the ruling CPP of behaving unconstitutionally by convening parliament last week despite a boycott by the 55-seat opposition over unresolved allegations of irregularities during July’s election.

“The National Assembly was approved by 68 votes, more than the absolute majority of all [123] members. Thus, the National Assembly vote…is in compliance with the Constitution and internal rules of the fifth mandate of the National Assembly,” the Assembly’s statement says.

“The CNRP, by not recognizing the legal fifth-mandate government that is fully legitimate, is acting in opposition to the Constitution, opposing the democratic regime and opposing His Majesty of Cambodia,” it continues.

Despite the CNRP boycott of the National Assembly, 68 CPP lawmakers were present on Sep­tember 23 for the opening of parliament, which was presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni and attended by diplomats from Cam­bodia’s major foreign donors.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Sunday that the government could prove that the CNRP was violating various laws in its efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the CPP government.

“I don’t want to manipulate it [the National Assembly’s statement], but there are a number of related laws that do not allow anyone to offend the government,” he said.

“A number of lawyers can prove that [the CNRP] is against the King, who has sent three letters [calling on the CNRP to join the National Assembly]. The government law­yers can prove that the CNRP actions are against the King and the Constitution,” Mr. Siphan added.

Kem Monovithya, the CNRP’s deputy director of public affairs, said that the opposition would not be intimidated by the implicit “threat” in the statement from the National Assembly, as the body was illegally formed in the first place.

“We are arguing on legal grounds and we don’t take their threats seriously at all,” she said.

CNRP president Sam Rainsy said that past interpretations of the Constitution by the Constitutional Council held that 120 members needed to be present for a new National Assembly to convene, making the current government illegitimate.

“I think the Constitution speaks for itself so the government must comply with this Constitution if it wants its legitimacy issue to be settled. So I think the ball is back in the CPP’s court,” he said.

“We would like to ask the Constitutional Council to either confirm or deny their previous interpretation of the Constitution saying that the National Assembly cannot work without 120 members having sworn in first,” he said.

The statement from the National Assembly comes in the wake of an announcement from the CNRP that it will lobby the international community to delegitimize the CPP government, as well as warnings from the government not to insult King Sihamoni—who cannot be criticized under the law.

On September 19, as the CNRP rallied supporters to call for the King to delay the opening of parliament, the Council of Ministers released a statement reminding citizens that it is illegal to insult King Sihamoni.

“[T]he Royal Government appeals to every citizen to maintain the value, dignity and respect of the revered King of our nation and to thoroughly respect the Constitution, which is the su­preme law,” the statement says.

Until they swear in as members of the National Assembly, the CNRP’s elected lawmakers are without parliamentary immunity, and without the CNRP, a CPP government will struggle to achieve legitimacy, said Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

“[CNRP lawmakers] are vulnerable, and the CPP are facing instability in the functioning of the government and National Assembly. Both of them know they cannot stay separate, they have to reach an agreement,” Mr. Panha said.

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